Ann Arbor — The reason for Michigan senior guard Zavier Simpson’s recent suspension was finally revealed Friday.
But it wasn’t because Simpson wrecked a Toyota RAV4 that belonged to Chrislan Manuel, the wife of athletic director Warde Manuel, while driving in downtown Ann Arbor around 3 a.m. two weekends ago.
According to Michigan coach Juwan Howard, it was because Simpson violated the team’s curfew.
“That right there was something that he's aware of, as well as all his other teammates. Being out at that time of the evening is not acceptable,” Howard said Friday. “We all have those type of rules that we have to abide by. That was something that I was not happy with at all whatsoever. I felt it was important that no matter who you are — if you're my best player or the 15th player — there are rules that you have to respect.”
While it’s unclear why Simpson was out so late, what is clear is police discovered the vehicle after it had struck a street sign and utility pole at 3:03 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 26 at the corner of Hill Street and South Forest Avenue, Arbor police Lt. Renee Bush told The Detroit News. The incident occurred roughly 12 hours after Michigan’s home loss to Illinois on a last-second shot.
Police found the vehicle with no driver, but Simpson and two other people were around the scene of the accident. Simpson told police he was walking home down South Forest when he noticed his friend's vehicle was smashed, so he stopped to see what had happened.
Simpson told police the car belonged to Evan Manuel, Warde Manuel's son who is a student manager for the basketball team. Simpson also initially gave a false name — Jeff Jackson Simpson — and denied any involvement in the crash, Bush said.
When officers told Simpson they recognized him as a Michigan basketball player, Simpson said he lied because he did not want to be involved in the crash report.
While one officer saw Simpson stumble a couple times as he walked around the outside of the vehicle, there was no odor of intoxicants on Simpson’s breath, Bush said.
Since police couldn't determine who the driver of the vehicle was at the time and there was no indication of any alcohol on his breath, Simpson wasn't given a Breathalyzer test.
“We didn't see him behind the wheel. He did not admit to being behind the wheel that night. We had no independent witnesses saying that he was behind the wheel," Bush said. “Until we can establish who was driving the vehicle, we don't do Breathalyzers. We’ve got to have a legal reason to do that.”
Officers were eventually able to determine through Chrislan Manuel, the registered owner of the car, and her son, Evan, that Simpson was the driver.
When interviewed by an officer on Wednesday, Simpson said he lost control of the vehicle on a patch of ice before striking the utility pole and was the only passenger in the car, Bush said.
Simpson received a civil infraction on Wednesday for driving too fast for road conditions. According to 15th District Court online records, Simpson made a partial payment toward his fine for "violation of basic speed law" and $130 remains as the balance. The payment is due Feb. 21.
When asked why Simpson wasn’t cited for lying to officers about his name and whether he was driving, Bush said she wished there were “citations for us to give to people for lying, but we don't. People lie to us every day.”
“That's why we do investigations to find out what the truth is and that's how we do it,” Bush said. “We have to verify information. That's what we were doing.
“In this particular case, it's an accident and somebody got a ticket out of it. People don't tell the truth for a variety of reasons and in this particular case I don't know why he didn't tell the truth.”
Howard said he couldn’t recall the exact date he found out Simpson was involved in the crash. But when he did, his first thought was about Simpson’s safety and health.
When asked about his level of concern about the situation — the starting point guard driving a car owned by the athletic director’s family — Howard said “that’s personal.”
“That's not something that I think is where it's important for me to say whose car he should drive,” Howard said. “It's more where Zavier, as well as the person whose car he is driving — that's a personal matter between those two individuals."
Howard added: "To my knowledge, (the car) is the athletic director's son’s."
It's possible Simpson's use of the car could be an impermissible extra benefit. It's an NCAA violation for student-athletes to receive something that is not generally available to the student body from someone who is not an established friend or family member. Examples cited on the Michigan athletics website include "money, gifts, clothing, tickets for entertainment, haircut, and use of a car."
According to a program spokesperson, Michigan reached out to the NCAA after the accident — and before Simpson's return to the active roster — and is confident it wasn't an issue.
On Jan. 27, one day after the crash, Howard suspended Simpson for “a violation of team policies.” Howard said at the time he also wanted to look “deeper and deeper” into the matter.
After missing the team’s Jan. 28 road contest at Nebraska, Simpson was reinstated on Jan. 31, the day before Michigan traveled to face Rutgers at Madison Square Garden in New York. Howard said he spoke with Warde Manuel before they made a decision.
“I wanted to find out what the police report had stated,” Howard said. “At the time when it didn't come out quick enough, I was comfortable with the one-game suspension. And I still live by that. I felt that he understood that he made a mistake and it's time to move on.”
Following Michigan’s win over Rutgers, Simpson declined to say what prompted his suspension and what steps he needed to take with Howard or Manuel be reinstated.
"We're going to keep that inside the team if that's OK with you guys," Simpson said.
Howard said he has had “some really good conversations” with Simpson since the incident and the team won’t be investigating it any further.
"It’s definitely a learning experience for me,” Howard said. “This is my first time as a head coach of a big, prestigious university like this. I never had an experience like this happen before with a player. This is my first time dealing with. Hopefully we don't have to deal with it again.”